Country House, City Mouse
Taking the bite out of the Big Apple
By Nancy McLoughlin
Manhattan throws a long gray shadow as I drive toward it from Bedford, its spires looming in the distance well before I pass through its wall of jaw-like tollbooths. I am a would-be empty-nester, trying to re-acquaint myself with an old friend, and it’s not easy. I have anything but a New York state of mind.
As a dutiful wife, however, I will follow my husband anywhere, including to a city apartment we’ll be living in during the week. After 23 years of commuting, my better half is ticking off the days until he can wake up minutes from his office and at a reasonable hour.
In preparation for a life spent between a city rental and a weekend home in Bedford, I engaged the services of a Katonah friend, who proclaimed to be an expert on all things New York. She offered me a few lessons in “liking” Manhattan. Friends thought it was funny, this need of mine to have someone teach me the ropes about a place I once inhabited. But for me, the city is a production and every move an exercise I have to think about beforehand.
On our first lesson, my tutor and I took the train from Bedford Hills. I learned about where to sit and how to choose just the right car. I tried to keep one ear open to hear announcements while letting my mind and body turn to Jello, as other passengers were doing. Suddenly, everyone buzzed alive with energy when the train pulled into the station.
My lessons came to an abrupt halt when my teacher decided to move to L.A. That was that. She was gone in two weeks. I never got a chance to learn the subway system, sign up for a library card, or hail a taxi. When I tried cheerily throwing my hat up in the air, à la Mary Tyler Moore, cabbies ignored me. So now I stand in the street like a woman afflicted, contorting and waving every part of my body.
I wasn’t good at being a city person back in my twenties when I “lived in sin” (as my mother was fond of calling it) with my soon-to-be husband—and that apartment was really something to cry about. The rust coming out of the bathroom pipes in those days tended to turn my skin an unappealing shade of orange.
Our dog, Ollie, dislikes the change in routine as much as I do. After holding in his business for 24 hours, eyes bulging, he finally relented. I chose a discreet corner of a building for him to relieve himself, but his backward glance said it all: “You want me to go here?” Poor thing. Then he vomited up the ostrich-oil doggie treat a nice man gave him at Union Square Farmers Market.
I wasn’t doing much better. Plastic bags containing apples, cider, and cheese cut lacerations in my hand as we walked the six blocks back to the apartment. One could make a career move out of hunting and gathering supplies in the city. It occurred to me that all I needed was a mugging and a purse-snatching to round out the New York experience.
Or maybe just a good dose of old habits. My daughter can’t afford to live on her own on her entry-level city salary, so she is occupying the new rental apartment, too. My son can’t afford to live in Manhattan at all on the salary he isn’t getting, so he is living in Bedford. Which means no matter where I go, I still have assorted underwear to wash, shoes to trip over, and a host of adolescent life stories to mull over.
And, whether I’m in Bedford or Manhattan, the nightly question remains: “Mom, what’s for dinner?” The only difference now is how to make it happen.